PROFILE: Gilman coaches CCG clients in the art of preparation

The easy-going and calm demeanor of Andy Gilman, founder of media-training firm CommCore Consulting Group, makes him a natural at helping his clients through corporate crises.

The easy-going and calm demeanor of Andy Gilman, founder of media-training firm CommCore Consulting Group, makes him a natural at helping his clients through corporate crises.

Most people would look at you funny if you said you knew someone "born to be a media trainer." Say the same thing about a shortstop, a child psychologist, or even, yes, a PR professional, and those same people wouldn't think twice. But the unique combination of talents and quirks that render a man the ideal coach (and salesman) to executives in crisis just doesn't seem likely to come wholesale with birth. Most people would say those traits must be learned. Most people would say media trainers are made, not born. Those people haven't met Andy Gilman. It's safe to assume that those who have met Gilman have been charmed by his deliberately easy-going manner, his well-manicured appearance, and his flattering habit of talking more about you than himself (even when being interviewed for a profile). It's also safe to assume that everyone who's met him has had things explained to them via hasty sketches of triangles, graphs, and pseudo-algebraic equations explaining some facet of media relations (3 x 3 is better than 9 x 1, he swears. To find out why, you'll have to buy his book, Get to the Point: How to Say What You Mean and Get What You Want). What doesn't need to be assumed is the very real involvement he's had in some of the most infamous crises of the last 25 years. This 53-year-old Long Island, NY, native has coached executives at Johnson & Johnson through the Tylenol crisis, doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center during the 1995 baby-switching incident, and the elected officials of Canada as they were trying to defuse international unrest over the SARS outbreak. What's perhaps most remarkable is that he's done it all as the head of his own firm, CommCore Consulting Group (CCG). Unlike most people in the communications industry, Gilman has been his own boss seemingly forever. ("It's better to own than to be owned," he quips.) Any meandering along his path occurred early on and seemingly served only to prepare him for his lifelong role as media coach. If you were to write a short story about a man who became a media trainer, full of foreshadowing and telling plot turns, you could do worse than to use Gilman's life as an outline. He's held only two jobs other than his current one. The first was high-school teacher, which he says made good use of his self-described "ability to relate well to people." Indeed, it's a side of him he's never strayed far from. Aside from his obvious work coaching clients, he's remained a coach in other ways. Hanging above his desk in his downtown Washington office is a handmade sign declaring "Coach Andy is the best," accolades from his time as a coach for his 11-year-old son's soccer team. (He also has a 15-year-old daughter.) His other pre-CCG job was as an NPR reporter. He's written for trade and consumer publications, and contributed articles to The New York Times, but it's NPR he seems most proud of, perhaps because it was for NPR that he covered the death of John Lennon. Add a law degree from Fordham University to the mix and you have one made-to-order media coach. He started CCG in 1985 with a now-departed partner and moved to Washington in 1991 to establish the office from which he currently works. In person, Gilman's qualifications take a backseat to his persona. It's his manner, not his r?sum?, that likely sells him best. And it starts with his willingness to listen. "He's very astute in accepting feedback and making sure that what his team does meets our specific requirements," notes Austin Acocella, director of learning operations for the General Accounting Office. "He's a great listener and has made great efforts to tailor his program to our needs," adds Acocella, whose company has been media-trained by Gilman for 13 years. "Our employees love his program. [It's] among the most highly rated we have. He's also fun, which never hurts in the classroom." "There's an element of being an actor on his part," says Larry Plumb, director of broadband media relations at Verizon. "He's got a very quick mind and he's very up to speed on issues, so he's extremely adept at recreating live interview situations." Plumb says his staff has worked with CCG on many occasions over the years (though he's eager to point out that he's turned to other firms, as well), but none stand out as clearly as the time Gilman helped coach then-Bell Atlantic executives through the controversial rollout of Caller ID. "That was the late '80s and there were lots of privacy concerns," Plumb recalls. "Andy's team helped prepare an executive before he appeared on the Today show." When asked what natural abilities make for a good media coach, Gilman takes a moment to think. He cites the ability to absorb facts quickly, to be calm when others are in full crisis mode, to remind executives - more through manner than words - that they're not the first ones to go through a crisis. "Lots of ex-reporters want to be media trainers," Gilman says, "[but] anyone can ask hard questions." Being a real media trainer is about "shaping your message" and helping a client to maximize the odds that reporters will include his or her message in their stories. (Hint: It has a lot to do with pausing and repetition.) If that's true, then Gilman's office speaks volumes about what he wants reporters to write about. His constant talk of "building bridges" (from a reporter's question to the answer you want to give) is illustrated by the many drawings and photos of, well, bridges covering his walls ("I love the Brooklyn Bridge," he confides). He makes sports analogies and talks of his natural inclination toward coaching. Meanwhile, adjacent to his desk is a picture of Yankee Stadium, and on his feet are a pair of socks adorned with tiny baseballs. And, of course, there is the constant reminder that "Coach Andy is the best." All of which comes together when asked what makes him cringe. "People who don't prepare." Andrew Gilman 1985-2004 President & CEO, CommCore Consulting Group 1982-1984 Freelance media trainer 1978-1984 Freelance reporter for NPR, The New York Times, National Law Journal, and The Washington Business Journal 1975-1978 Reporter, Travel Management Daily 1972-1974 High-school teacher

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